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Don't Let Client Quirks Take You Off Your Game

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Construction Practices

Don't Let Client Quirks Take You Off Your Game

The way to manage erratic or indecisive personalities? Set boundaries and be the expert. 

August 6, 2018

Meet Kathy: She’s got a house overlooking the Hudson in a neighborhood full of big, beautiful Victorians. Kathy’s got money, or she wouldn’t be living there (the property taxes alone would give you a nosebleed). But what Kathy has in finances, she lacks in decisiveness.

Everyone has their character flaws, but here’s how hers becomes a problem: Her big old hulk of a house is a bona fide money pit, and she wants to spend about a quarter-million dollars to get the place exactly the way she wants it. That would be great if she had some specific idea in mind, but as it stands, Kathy doesn’t know what she wants.

So, we walk the neighborhood and drive around the area to gather ideas. Kathy loves this Queen Anne; half a block down the street, the Shingle style speaks to her. On the next block, she’s gaga for Gothic Revival. But by the next street, she doesn’t like Queen Anne look and she hates the Shingle style. 

If you’re her contractor, Kathy's indecisiveness can quickly turn into an annoyance and waste your time and money, if you let it get that far. 

Facts or Fiction?

Now let's turn to Stewart. He's the guy all set to go in one direction, and just  as you think you're ready to go, he switches gears. Then, he switches gears again. And again. And again.

Homeowners like Stewart are their own worst enemy. He's done all his research about this siding job, but that quickly turns into the problem.

You’ve heard of the increasingly popular term Fake News? Well, it exists in the home improvement industry, too.

There’s a ton of bad press out there about the siding product we install. Blogs and testimonials tell you how overrated and downright awful it is, on top of being way too expensive (even though there are also stories out there about just how great of a product it is). In today's online-centric world, you can easily find out not just what you want to know but anything you’d like to believe.

So Stewart likes what he’s read about our company, and we’re ready move forward. But after some more online research, he’s discovered the paint soon falls off that fiber cement siding board, the seams are obvious, and the caulking unsightly.

He asks if I was aware that it requires a lot more maintenance than vinyl. While his passion for the project is admirable, it's hard to work with someone who is thoroughly convinced what he's read online is correct, even though there's an expert in front of him telling him it's not.

I ask Stewart if any of the problem projects he saw online were jobs done by our company, and go on to explain that product performance has everything to do with installation quality. After that conversation, we’re back where we started and ready to move forward again, when Stewart discovers another product online and calls the supply house to compare prices with the product our company uses.

Then Stewart tells us he wants to use the product he discovered, because the local lumberyard told him what a board of that costs vs. what a board of fiber cement costs. And this goes on, and on, and on.

Here Is The Reality

You can always just walk away. If you let Stewart or Kathy carry on like this, months could go by before a final decision is made and a contract is signed.

What's important to understand is that these types of people run on pure feeling—facts are often secondary. If you don't want to walk away from the job, you need to learn how to manage the indecisiveness or risk getting pulled right into it. The minute you start to seriously engage with what they’re saying, it’s more or less assured that at some point you’re either going to lose money or run screaming from the house.

So, how do you deal with them?

Start by listening. Separate the noise from the need, and listen patiently, because you’ll get nowhere without patience. 

Break it down to the bare bones: What does Kathy really want? To take her old house on a street lined with beautiful old houses and turn it into a showpiece. What does Stewart want? A great siding job at a fair price. We are more than capable of catering to both of their desires.

Take Charge

Then it comes time to be firm. Explain (without being arrogant) that you have the expertise to meet their project goals, and that no amount of online research will bring them up to speed with your years in the field. Those are the facts, and sometimes customers need to be reminded of that.

So, I say: “Kathy, this is what I do for a living. I see the architecture of your house, and I understand what you want to accomplish. Let me design your job, show you the design, and then we can drill down to the specifics.”

And I say: “Stewart, if the lumberyard is selling boards at that price, I’m coming down there with a tractor trailer to buy a load because that’s not the price we pay.”

Stewart finally signed a contract, and I delivered a design to Kathy that she's excited about. You’re the expert—not them—and conveying that to them in a way that doesn't insult their level of emotional investment in the project can quickly get things back on track.

As an expert, your time is valuable (there’s literally a price tag attached to it). Never lose sight of the fact that you’re the professional. If they’re burning up a lot of your time and refusing to hear you out, turning a seven-day job into a ten-day job, you have to charge for it. If you don’t, the rest is for nothing.


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